A Travellerspoint blog

Crisis in Lebanon

The beginning!!

sunny 32 °C
View Beirut 2019 on katieshevlin62's travel map.

When I told folk I was heading to Beirut, some would exclaim, 'Seriously?' Lebanon is a country that has been blighted by war throughout its history. The more recent civil war remains one of the most devastating conflicts of the late 20th century. Sparking memories of a war torn country, it was easy to comprehend why the mention of travelling there would raise alarm bells. Fear underpinned an overall sense of bewilderment; why would anyone step into this precarious land? Rolling my eyes, I was nonchalant in my response, reiterating 'Well it is safe now!'. I arrived in Beirut on October 17th 2019 and had no idea that all hell would break loose over the coming days.

06d33b30-718f-11ea-9343-0357b5a694d8.JPG

I had chosen an Airbnb in a traditional neighbourhood in Beirut; I enjoy observing life and meeting local people. The host did not live in the flat unfortunately, but I shared the huge space with an Arabic student from France; albeit I hardly saw her. On venturing out early that first morning, the streets of Beirut were alive with activity. Nearby stalls and shops displayed mountains of colourful fruit and vegetables of every description. Hijabed women carefully prodded and inspected the produce before buying, at the best price. Exploring random streets and lanes, it became clear that fresh meat, fish and bread were also available. In fact, if you could navigate your way through the maze, you could find almost anything!

This vibrant atmosphere was enthralling and topped off by the Arabic language ringing in the air. Ras An Nabaa, the neighbourhood, covered a relatively small area, but had a dense population. Within the dynamic mix, were men, and only men, sitting outside makeshift cafes smoking, chatting and reading newspapers in the sun. That was until I rocked up! So yes, gender stereotypes were played out in what was a traditional Arab neighbourhood. This was perhaps more obvious later in the day, when the women had gone home to cook their newly purchased goods. After familiarising with my surroundings and having enjoyed tasting Lebanese delicacies (many given free) for breakfast, I decided to visit the National Museum of Beirut in the afternoon.

The museum was not too far, so I tuned into google maps and started walking. However, the app failed to work, so I stopped a man and pointed to the map and in different directions, with that confused look! I do not speak Arabic but he ushered me towards the nearby petrol station, when it became clear he worked there. He gestured towards the clock, a car and put up 5 fingers, so rather than directing me, he would kindly drive me to the museum. Yip communication is not only verbal! We set off and as we joined the dual carriageway, he continued driving at speed, into the oncoming traffic! The angry horns were beeping in unison whilst cars swerved to avoid us! I gasped, he laughed, whilst driving over the grass verge onto the correct side of the road. I was to learn later, that it is common for the Lebanese to drive in a way that is often just plain terrifying! In the midst of the wacky races, I glimpsed an angry crowd alongside huge refuse crates on fire, but given I was fearing for my life, thought nothing more of it!

DSC00022.JPG

The morning after the night before

The National Museum of Beirut is the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon. Based just south of trendy Badaro, a spacious affluent district; in stark contract to Ras An Nabaa. Not being a great fan of visiting museums for the sake of it when travelling, this one proved to be magnificent. I wandered around in awe of the white marble statues, sarcophagi, mosaics and sculptures, ranging from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the Byzantine period. Particularly lingering around the Maronite mummies in disbelief at how well preserved they were. The eight mummies date back to 1283 AD and were uncovered in a rescue evacuation in the Qadisha Valley in 1991. It was then time for a seat to watch a film showing the methods employed to protect the artifacts during the civil war. However, this was cut short by an announcement that the museum would close in 15 minutes. Three hours earlier than usual. On leaving, the security guard encouraged me to return to my hotel since 'today there were problems in Beirut'. It was then I noticed the cars flying past, drivers tooting horns furiously, cheering, many had Lebanese flag flying from windows, I initially thought it was a wedding party.

751e9f50-718d-11ea-9343-0357b5a694d8.JPG

Maronite mummies

DSC00015.JPG

Sarcophagi

DSC00017.JPG

Ancient tombs

Meaty aroma's were drifting over from an alfresco cafe across the street. Thinking what the hell it is early, I decided to go over. It was busy with soldiers hurriedly eating kebabs during their break and friends chatting over falafel and freshly squeezed fruit juice. The welcoming waiter recommended the chicken kebab, smothered in garlic sauce, it was the best ever. We began chatting and he explained that the Lebanese were angry with the government due to rising prices, along with a sharp increase in poverty and unemployment. The final straw had been the introduction of a Whats App tax, later withdrawn - but it was too late. He explained Lebanon's government has long had issues with corruption, nepotism and an entrenched political class. Whilst learning about the current socio-economic situation with the English speaking Amir, I suddenly noticed the police blocking the surrounding roads. Deciding it was time to leave, I asked Amir about taxis. His manager overhead and told me taxi's would be off the road. Shit how will I get home? Suggesting I could walk, Amir shuddered, no it could be dangerous. The manager came to the rescue, Farouk the delivery guy would take me home on his motorbike. He was lovely, a young Syrian man who did not speak English, so the manager wrote my address in Arabic and we were on our way!

Being on the motorbike, it was easy to manoeuvre around the barricades, inaccessible to cars. During the drive I noticed a large group of men congregating in the street, next to a pile of burning tyres. However, I was unable to ask for an explanation from Farouk due to the language barrier. Arriving at the outskirts of Ras An Nabaa, Farouk stopped several times to ask for directions. In an area so crammed tight with flats, where street names are not displayed, its not easy to find your way. We weaved up and down a warren of lanes and narrow streets where it was business as usual, this time young people filled the streets. Finally, I was dropped at my digs, thanked Farouk, smiling he roared off into the night. I hoped the kebabs he was delivering were not cold!!! It had been an interesting day and the kindness and concern of the Lebanese and of course Syrian people, really touched me.

Settling for the rest of the evening on the balcony, I wondered what tomorrow would bring.

Posted by katieshevlin62 23:43 Archived in Lebanon Comments (4)

Crisis in Lebanon

The beginning!!

sunny 32 °C
View Beirut 2019 on katieshevlin62's travel map.

When I told folk I was heading to Beirut, many would exclaim, 'Seriously?' Lebanon is a country that has been blighted by war throughout its history. With the more recent Lebanese Civil War remaining one of the most devastating conflicts of the late 20th century. Sparking memories of a war torn country, it was easy to comprehend why the mention of travelling there would raise alarm bells. Fear underpinned an overall sense of bewilderment as to why anyone would step into such a precarious land. Rolling my eyes, I was nonchalant in my response, reiterating 'Well it is safe now!'. I arrived in Beirut on October 17th 2019 and had no idea that all hell would break loose over the coming days.

06d33b30-718f-11ea-9343-0357b5a694d8.JPG

I had chosen an Airbnb in a traditional neighbourhood in Beirut; since I enjoy observing life and meeting local people. The host did not live in the flat unfortunately, but I shared the huge space with an Arabic student from France; albeit I hardly saw her. On venturing out early that first morning, the streets of Beirut were alive. The stalls and shops displayed mountains of colourful fruit and vegetables of every description. Hijabed women carefully prodded and inspected the produce before buying, at the best price. Exploring random streets and lanes, it became clear that fresh meat, fish and bread were also available. In fact, if you could navigate your way through the maze, you could find almost anything! This vibrant atmosphere was enthralling and topped off by the Arabic language ringing in the air. Ras An Nabaa, the neighbourhood, covered a relatively small area, but had a dense population. Within the dynamic mix, were men, and only men, sitting outside makeshift cafes smoking, chatting and reading newspapers in the sun. That was until I rocked up! So yes, gender stereotypes were played out in what was a traditional Arab neighbourhood. This was perhaps more obvious later in the day, when the women had gone home to cook their fresh ingredients. After familiarising with my surroundings and having enjoyed tasting Lebanese delicacies (many given free) for breakfast, I decided to visit the National Museum of Beirut in the afternoon.

The museum not too far, so I tuned into google maps and started walking. However, the app failed to work, so I stopped a man and pointed to the map and in different directions, with that confused look! I do not speak Arabic but he directed me to the nearby petrol station, when it became clear he worked there. He looked at the clock, a car and put up 5 fingers, so rather than directing me, he would kindly drive me to the museum. Yip communication is not only verbal! We set off and as we joined the dual carriageway, he continued driving at speed, into the oncoming traffic! The angry horns were beeping in unison whilst cars swerved to avoid us! I gasped, he laughed whilst driving over the grass verge onto the correct side. I was to learn later, that it is common for the Lebanese to drive in a way that is often just plain terrifying! Whilst all this was happening, I did notice a crowd out the corner of my eye alongside huge refuse crates on fire, but didn't think much about it.

DSC00022.JPG

The morning after the night before

The National Museum of Beirut is the principal museum of archaeology in Lebanon. Not being a great fan of visiting museums for the sake of it when travelling, this one proved to be magnificent. I wandered around in awe of the white marble statues, sarcophagi, mosaics and sculptures, ranging from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the Byzantine period. Particularly lingering around the Maronite mummies in disbelief at how well preserved they were. The eight mummies date back to 1283 AD and were uncovered in a rescue evacuation in the Qadisha Valley in 1991. It was then time for a seat and to watch a film showing the methods employed to protect the artifacts during the civil war. However, this was cut short by an announcement advising the museum would close in 15 minutes. Three hours earlier than usual. On leaving, the security guard encouraged me to return to my hotel since 'today there were problems in Beirut'. It was then I noticed the cars flying past, drivers tooting horns furiously, cheering; many had Lebanese flag flying from windows, I initially thought it was a wedding party.

751e9f50-718d-11ea-9343-0357b5a694d8.JPG

Maronite mummies

DSC00015.JPG

Sarcophagi

DSC00017.JPG

Ancient tombs

Meaty aroma's were drifting over from an alfresco cafe across the street. Thinking what the hell its early, I decided to go over. It was busy with soldiers hurriedly eating kebabs during their break and friends chatting over falafel and freshly squeezed fruit juice. The welcoming waiter recommended the chicken kebab, smothered in garlic sauce, it was the best ever. We began chatting and he explained that the Lebanese were angry with the government due to rising prices, along with a sharp increase in poverty and unemployment. The final straw had been the introduction of a Whats App tax, later withdrawn - but it was too late. He explained Lebanon's government has long had issues with corruption, nepotism and an entrenched political class. Whilst enjoying learning about the current socio-political situation with the English speaking Amir, I suddenly noticed that police were blocking the surrounding roads. Deciding it was time to leave, I asked Amir about taxis. His manager overhead and told me taxi's would be off the road. Shit how will I get home? Suggesting I could walk, Amir shuddered, no it could be dangerous. The manager came to the rescue, the delivery guy would take me home on his motorbike. He was lovely, a young Syrian man who didn't speak English, so the manager wrote my address in Arabic and we were on our way!

Being on the motorbike, it was easy to manoeuvre around the barricades, although inaccessible to cars. During the drive I noticed a large group of men congregating in the street, next to a pile of burning tyres. Arriving at the outskirts of Ras An Nabaa, the driver stopped several times asking for directions. In an area so crammed with flats, where street names were not displayed, its not easy to find your way. We weaved up and down a warren of lanes and narrow streets where it was business as usual, this time young people filled the streets. Finally, I was dropped at my digs, thanked the driver and he roared off into the night. I hope the kebabs he was delivering did not get cold!!! It had been an interesting day and the kindness and concern of the Lebanese and of course Syrian people, really touched me.

Settling for the evening on the balcony, I wondered what tomorrow would bring....

Posted by katieshevlin62 08:22 Archived in Lebanon Comments (3)

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